The Earth is the Classroom

Nestled amidst Log Mountain and Hinds Ridge, in the heart of Hogskin Valley, lies a Tennessee recipe for renewal, the Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center. One of 12 Earth Literacy Centers in the world, Narrow Ridge was established in 1991 by Bill Nickle, a Methodist pastor.

"Narrow Ridge" is a reference in Martin Buber's theology to "the place where I and Thou meet." The name signifies a philosophy adopted by a small community of people who are striving to live responsibly in their relationship with the Earth and the larger community of plants and animals that make their home here. The place invokes the spiritual, as staff member Harry Rothwell has witnessed.

"On the one hand, there is the effort of people intending to care about and heal the land," he said, "and on the other, these hills are healing people too. I have seen many cases of people who come here and have been healed by the land. The setting is one that tends to be therapeutic."

I was fortunate enough to spend a summer with the Narrow Ridge community partaking in their heart-sharing potlucks, star-gazing, organic gardening, and the ever-anticipated splash in the lake. One of the hermitages is graced with a wall-hanging that professes a definition of Earth literacy held by Mac Smith, a longtime friend and contributor to the presence of the Narrow Ridge center. It reads:

There is Hope that we can expand our model of education-we must redefine the meaning of literacy before civilization self-destructs:...To be literate, you would have to master more than the power of language and math, more than the power to split atoms, fly to the stars, compose poetry and write laws. To be literate, you would have to know your place in the scheme of atoms, the poetry of nature and know how to live by its laws. You would have to master the art of getting along-getting along with each other life form with whom you share Earth's tiny space.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1995
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